29 May 1999

Suburban Bears Studied

Port Richey - Four black bears are raising seven cubs in the shadows of strip malls and housing developments on Central Florida's Gulf Coast, and scientists are tracking them to learn how they get by on the urban fringe. With a core population of 15 to 20, it is one of the smallest groups of black bears in North America, said a study adviser of the University of Kentucky. The bears have managed to survive in a fragmented habitat.

After a year with no cubs, scientists are thrilled by the population boom. The black bear is listed by the state as a threatened species, except in Apalachicola National Forest and Baker and Columbia Counties, said the representative from the Fresh Water Fish Commissiom.

Living so close to humans can be hazardous to the bears. Earlier this month, a young male died after being hit by a car in southern Citrus County.

Eight animals have been fitted with radio-transmitting collars as part of the study, which began in October 1997. They appear well-nourished and disease-free.

Researchers found evidence of bears in places such as the J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County and the outskirts of Lecanto and Brooksville, reachable only by crossing roads and passing through developments. The long-term view becomes important because we need to identify these pathways, to find out how these bears filter through the landscape, a spokesman said. .Scientists would like to track the cubs to see whether they move to distant habitats.

A veterinarian and an environmental consultant with a Tampa engineering firm have done most of the field work, assisted by, among others, staff of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which is paying for the two-year study ending this year. The land resource director at the water district, has proposed an additional $53,000 to pay for the study for another year. The public seems almost as interest in the animals as the scientists.
Information from: Florida Today, May 24, 1999

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